Perry Gershon Eyes Another Run

Perry Gershon and is family on their way to vote in East Hampton on Election Day. Mr. Gershon said his family would support a second campaign, should he decide to run again for Congress. Durell Godfrey

Perry Gershon, who lost a bid to unseat Representative Lee Zeldin in last month’s midterm elections, is contemplating a second campaign to represent New York’s First Congressional District, he told The Star last week. 

“I’m giving it strong consideration,” he said on Friday. If he is the Democratic Party’s 2020 nominee, “I certainly go in with a lot more name recognition, and a group of people who already believe in me and what I could do.” In last month’s loss to Mr. Zeldin, he said, “We showed that New York 1 is a competitive district.”

His campaign was, in part, “an uphill battle to convince people the district was winnable,” he said. “You won’t have that problem the next time.”

Mr. Zeldin won a third consecutive congressional campaign with 51.5 percent to his challenger’s 47.4 percent, but Mr. Gershon, who lives in East Hampton, pointed to the 128,000 votes he received as evidence that he, or another Democrat, could reclaim the district. His vote total, he said, dwarfed the 94,000 Mr. Zeldin received in his 2014 election, when he unseated the six-term Democratic incumbent, Tim Bishop, and Mr. Zeldin’s 4.1-percent margin of victory this year was far narrower than his 16-point win over former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst in 2016. “We showed a great ability to close that gap,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of Democratic energy here, but it just wasn’t quite enough to get the job done this time around,” Mr. Gershon, who spent 25 years in commercial real estate, said. “Whether that means I should run again myself or whether that opens the field for the next candidate, time will tell.” Whoever the Democrats’ nominee is, “it’s a race that I think will have much better national attention, because the gap was so much better.” 

Mr. Gershon’s wife, Lisa, and two sons have said that they would support a second campaign, he said last week. 

The Perry Gershon NY-1 Facebook page remains active, with regular posts about political developments and current events. The former candidate has used the platform to criticize Mr. Zeldin, in the last week calling out the congressman on inaction over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, apparently directed by the government of Saudi Arabia, and calling on him to join Dem­ocrats in maintaining health insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. The latter post, on Saturday, followed the declaration by a Texas judge that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional. 

Nationally, Democrats fared well in House races, picking up some 40 seats and reclaiming a majority. While President Trump is unpopular, Democrats won with messaging that stressed health care, and Mr. Gershon predicted that the issue would remain prominent in 2020. “The health care system in America is broken, and it’s unlikely that it’s fixed with divided government and Trump in the White House,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a Democratic vision and a Republican . . . I don’t know what will emerge. The Republicans failed to define their vision of health care, and I think the Democrats now in control of the House have the opportunity to set agendas.” 

The environment, he said, will only grow in importance, particularly as climate change impacts coastal districts like New York’s First. “The Trump people are showing no mercy in terms of where their vision lies,” promoting fossil fuels above all others, he said. “They’re actually encouraging people to burn more oil. I think that’s going to be a campaign issue here.”

“I’m disappointed personally,” he said of losing to Mr. Zeldin. “I invested a lot of time, energy, and money in the race, and it would have been nice to win, and it would have been good for the people of New York 1 who wanted to see a Democrat in there, but sometimes it takes two cycles to get the job done.” Mr. Zeldin himself needed two campaigns to win election to Congress, his 2014 election following a 16-point loss to Mr. Bishop in 2008. “Whether it’s me or the next person,” Mr. Gershon said, “we’re supposed to build on what we have, and this was a successful race. We made great strides.” 

The race, he said in its immediate aftermath, was exhausting. “The driving was probably the hardest part of it,” he said on Friday. “I spent so much time in the car — as a candidate from East Hampton, that just makes it a little taxing. But it’s critical to spend time at the other side of the district. I did it in this campaign and I’d certainly do it again.” A week’s vacation “to clear my head” was rejuvenating. 

Some of the negative messaging by Mr. Zeldin’s campaign was “as expected,” he said, but some was “disturbing.” After Mr. Gershon’s Democratic primary win, his opponent quickly labeled the former New York City resident “Park Avenue Perry,” portraying him as an outsider to the district. Mr. Gershon built a house in East Hampton in 1999 and became a year-round resident last year. 

Mr. Zeldin’s campaign also accused Mr. Gershon of investing in offshore oil despite his proclaimed environmentalism. The investment, Mr. Gershon said, is in a Louisiana port that transfers oil from offshore tankers to a refinery and not in offshore drilling. “The blatant lies about investments I didn’t make, I found disturbing,” he said. “It’s one thing to bring something up. But when you keep bringing up something that’s completely false and is proven, and put it on television, I found that offensive.”

The new Democratic majority in the House, he said, should prioritize policy and “show the Democratic Party can unite on issues they promised to deliver on.” But the truth about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and any collusion with the Trump campaign, should also be exposed, “not just for the sake of impeachment, but to make sure it doesn’t happen again. If the voters know what happened, let them decide if it’s okay or not.”

Despite coming up short, “I took a lot of solace in the fact that the Democratic Party reclaimed the House,” Mr. Gershon said, “and that they won the State Senate.” His campaign and that of Liuba Grechen Shirley, a Democrat who waged an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Representative Peter King in New York’s Second District, helped drive Democratic turnout, he said, allowing Democrats to win control of the State Senate. “We also helped siphon resources the Republicans could have deployed in other races,” notably New York’s 11th and 19th Congressional Districts, in which Republican incumbents were defeated. The Republicans “spent a fortune on me in the last week.” 

His race was not a failure, rather incomplete, Mr. Gershon said. “We did a whole lot of good.”